The Military State of America and the Democratic Left

The Military State of America and the Democratic Left

The invasion of Iraq was a defining moment for the United States. This was the kind of war that many Americans believed formed no part of this country’s repertoire—an aggressive war of choice. Its aim was not to stop some wider conflict or to prevent ethnic cleansing or mass killings; indeed, its predictable effect was to promote these things. The purpose was to extirpate a regime that the United States had built up but that had morphed into an obstacle to this country—and to replace it with one that would represent a more compliant instrument of American purpose. In short, the war was a demonstration of American ability and willingness to remove and replace regimes anywhere in the world. Even in the wake of the Iraq fiasco, no one in high places has declared repetitions of such exploits “off the table”—to use the expression favored by this country’s foreign policy elites.

For those of us who opposed the war, there is obvious relief at the conclusion—we hope—of a conflict that has consistently brought out the worst in this country. But at the same time, those on the democratic Left look to the future with unease. Even under a reputedly liberal president, we have reason to worry about new versions of Iraq—in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran or venues yet undisclosed.

To its credit, Dissent has not joined the rush to avert attention from the endgames of the Iraq conflict. The Spring 2009 edition features a section of articles under the rubric “Leaving Iraq.” The essays focus on the moral and political quandaries of America’s departure from a country that it did a great deal to break, but where its ability to repair things is rapidly diminishing. But, a look at the proposals put forward there makes it clear that the thinking that gave us the American invasion of Iraq in the first place has not gone away.

George Packer, for example, inveighs against those seeking a quick exit for American forces. The balance of power among Iraq’s domestic forces could easily be upset, he holds, and valuable progress undone, without a long-lingering presence of Americans as enforcers. Obviously playing to the sensitivities of Dissent readers, he concludes that “much as we might wish [the war] had never happened at all, America will have obligations as well as interests in Iraq for a long time to come.” The sense of all this, from Packer’s standpoint, becomes clear when you recall his efforts to discredit Americans’ resistance to the war in the months before it began. The antiwar movement, he wrote in the New York Times Magazine in December, 2002, “has a serious liability … it’s controlled by the furthest reaches of the American Left.” He goes on, in this same article, to envisage a quite different role for those on the Left, like himself, who took what he considered a more enlightened view: The “liberal hawks could make the case for war to suspicious Europeans and to wavering fellow ...

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